Future of work – how has the COVID-19 pandemic re-shaped the agenda?

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many countries had experienced transformations in their labour and jobs markets as a consequence of technological progress, climate change, globalisation, and shifts in demography. These trends have had an impact on employment relationships and, as a result, on workers’ rights, obligations and security.

The onset of COVID-19 in early 2020 produced a set of economic challenges on a scale not seen in decades. As economies shut down in an effort to contain the virus, millions of workers were unable to return to their jobs – some temporarily, some permanently.

This created a new urgency to address issues affecting working people worldwide, including the digitalisation of the economy, the need for continuous education, and the fragility of many national social protection systems. COVID-19 has made the case for a new social contract stronger than ever. The pandemic has clearly shown the need to re-think worker protection and help individuals to mitigate job risks while taking advantage of new opportunities.

A five-year research collaboration between the Smith School of Enterprise at University of Oxford and Zurich Insurance Group shows that the pandemic has accelerated changes in the role of government in insurance provision. The report suggests it is inevitable that the state can no longer be the insurer of last resort, particularly due to rising debt levels. New partnerships should be developed between governments, employers, and benefits providers to protect workers against the enhanced risks of a post-pandemic economy.

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